Dining on a Dime: Oats

by Anastassia Skarlinski

A lot of people think of oats as being boring. The breakfast of your grandparents, the disappointing cookie option, boring, boring, boring. But that does not have to be true. Oats can be used in many different, and dare I say, interesting ways. They can be as simple, or complicated as you would like to make them.

Evidence of humans eating oats can be traced back thousands of years. Oats have been grown for both human and animal food since at least the Bronze Age. They require cold weather to grow; in the US, most of the oats that we eat are grown in South Dakota and Minnesota. The cold-hardiness of these crops has been useful as they grow well in areas where the growing season is too short and wet to be favorable for other grains.

In the store, you are likely to see a couple of different kinds of oats. Most often you will see old-fashioned or rolled oats, quick or instant oats, and steel-cut or Irish oats. Rolled oats are steamed and then rolled flat. The same thing happens with quick oats, but they are just rolled thinner. This process helps to keep the natural oils in the oats fresher for longer and allows them to cook faster. Steel-cut oats are whole oats that have been roughly chopped into a few pieces, and Scottish oats are stone-ground rather than chopped. Whether rolled or cut, oats are a great way to incorporate whole grains into your diet.

Why do people always go on about incorporating whole grains? Whole grains tend to be high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein. And this is also true of oats which are a great source of manganese, phosphorus, copper, iron, selenium, zinc, magnesium, and B vitamins. They are also a good source of vegetable protein, fiber, and antioxidants. There is a family of antioxidants, avenanthramides, that are unique to oats which are being researched for their role in reducing inflammation in your arteries. There is a special kind of fiber in oats, beta-glucan, that is believed to help lower cholesterol by binding to cholesterol in your gut and then ushering it out.

So, what can you make with oats? Overnight oats and baked oats are both great ways to prepare a couple of mornings-worth of breakfasts ahead of time. You can also toast oats into quick and easy granola. Steel-cut oats tend to take longer to cook than rolled oats. Some find it easier to cook these overnight in a slow cooker. If you do not like sweet oatmeal, try making it with salt and pepper, or possibly even some kimchi. I often use rolled oats as a binder in meatloaf or meatballs as a substitute for breadcrumbs. Try taking this basic template for baked oatmeal and play with it to make it your own.

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